Osteoarchaeology, or human bioarchaeology, is the study of human skeletal remains for the purposes of recovering data about the individual, skeletal sample, or population, which can inform us about their life course, health status, interactions with other people and the environment, social and ritual practices, and about their deaths.
The osteoarchaeological work undertaken for the project so far has encompassed the analysis of a small group of individuals and a small assemblage of disarticulated human remains excavated from the cemetery at Gännätä Maryam. Radiocarbon dating of the burials indicates that they are from the 17th century or later. Both sexes and individuals with a range of ages at death were represented and there was evidence for a number of pathological and traumatic conditions:
dental disease and evidence for the use of the teeth as tools;
osteoarthritis and degenerative disease, as a result of ageing, but also possibly associated with hard physical activity;
ante-mortem fractures (those that occurred during the life of the individual) that may be associated with negotiating difficult terrain;
rickets (vitamin D deficiency) as a result of nutritional problems or lack of access to sunlight.
There was also evidence for taphonomic change in the form of rodent gnawing and damage that can possibly be attributed to wild bees or solitary wasps.
The work planned for our next season includes recording, collecting, examining and comparing disarticulated, commingled remains (and partially articulated skeletonised remains, where available) from burial caves at Wašša Mika’el and the bone assemblage at Yǝmrǝḥannä Krǝstos. We will also send further samples for radiocarbon dating.